Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.

I am Naji, your host, joined today by Gaurav Deshpande, an Experienced healthcare professional with 12 years of clinical, academic, and global health experience. Gaurav is currently the Head of Medical Oversight and safety at one of the largest cleft NGOs in the world, Operation Smile. He is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at PennState Hershey school of Medicine with several publications in the craniofacial and cleft field. Gaurav is passionate about global surgery and is constantly looking to bridge the gap between patients and healthcare corporations by helping develop and disseminate high quality products and therapeutics.

Gaurav – It’s a pleasure to see you again and have you with me today!

Gaurav Deshpande: Thank you so much, Naji. It’s a pleasure to be on your show. And, um, you know, I’m, I’m very excited, uh, about this, uh, um, this meeting. Thank you so much.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us first your story from dental to specifically cleft surgery, MIT Sloan, and now leading medical in one of the largest NGOs?

What’s in between the lines of this inspiring journey?

Gaurav Deshpande: Well, I mean, if I would write, uh, this story, it probably would inspire a Bollywood movie for sure. Um, because, uh, there are so many. Unbelievable events that happen in, in, in, in between all this, um, you know, phases of my life. Um, So I did my orals and Max facial surgery residency in 2010, and I was an assistant professor at one of the teaching hospital in Mumbai.

And there was this opportunity that came in where Operation Smile was doing, uh, a humanitarian, uh, mission, uh, surg, short term surgical program in the northeast part of India Guha, um, which not many people knew. You know, it’s, uh, It was considered a remote area. There was a lot of, um, insurgency problem at that point of time.

Lot of political instability, et cetera. So what’s, you know, not a very great place to go, but, uh, you know, when they came there and started a program with the, with the Ministry of Health, um, and I got to know about it. I, um, Signed on on that program as a, as an observer, because to be honest, I had never ever seen a patient with clef lip and p and you know, this kind of, um, facial differences in my life because all those usually went to the facial plastic surgery department, not as, So I was here, I showed up, I got selected as an observer, and the team leader asked me, how many CLEs have you done have?

How many cliff surgeries have you done? And I was like, you know, should I tell him a few? Or, you know, the devil was pointing me with his trident. But, uh, you know, I, I told him the truth, you know, was I’ve never seen a, a case patient with my life. He was just theoretical article from the books and, you know, you should have seen his expression.

Well, long story shot. Um, I started working with

Naji Gehchan: them. Yes. Sorry for, uh, for stopping you here, but can you share with us a little bit more about clef patients? I’m not sure everyone listening to us who they know

Gaurav Deshpande: about it. Sure. So, uh, so clef lip andal is, um, the most common facial congenital, uh, anomaly, uh, in very technical terms.

Now, let me make it simple. It’s basically, um, you know, when a human being is developing in a mother’s womb, um, There are chances, um, one in 700 times, uh, that that baby would not have a complete union of the facial tissues. So what that leads to is there is, um, you know, like a hole in the pallet or the lip as we see them.

Uh, you know, we probably have seen, uh, people with a scar on their lip. We’re not able to talk clearly, uh, when we speak with them, uh, either on Subway or one of our friends or somebody’s friends. Uh, and as I said, it’s um, you know, the incidents is one in 700, so it’s pretty common, and especially it’s more common in countries, uh uh, who lack.

Resources, you know, whether nutrition is a problem. Uh, healthcare is not very good. Diagnostics are not very good. So, so this is what left mentality is like. It’s, uh, it’s, it’s a condition that we are born with. Uh, so, uh, yeah. So I started working with this gentleman. His name is Alex Campbell. Uh, we became Friends for Life and he, he’s my mentor teacher.

Uh, and I was also inspired by this that I decided to shut down my practice in Mumbai and moved to Guari and work with them at the center. Uh, my wife joined later, after six months, uh, because she was running a clinic and, you know, it was not very easy for her to directly shut it down, but, She came in, she started a dental department there.

Uh, we worked for around four years there. I took care of 16,000 patients. Uh, was, was a, was a great experience for us, not just helping kids, but also to develop our personal careers and life. Um, and then we moved back to Mumbai, started a similar center at a teaching hospital in Mumbai. Stayed the same work for six years with the Ministry of Health, uh, uh, the government of, uh, um, family welfare and uh, and health, um, you know, helped more kids.

And I always wanted to do administration because, you know, when we were running our center, a lot of things we did at that administration. Flavor to it, but we never knew about, like, you know, formally management. You know what it is? I had no clue. Because doctors in medical profession, you know, the problem is they do not, and you, you’re aware of it.

They do not teach us anything about finance. They do not teach anything about economics, accounting, nothing. Right. And it’s so important because doctors in a way are business people. So, um, yeah. Uh, so covid hit, we had to shut down elective surgeries, which is, you know, we only were operating emergency surgeries.

So, um, that gave me an opportunity to appear for the G R e, uh, perform decently well then, uh, apply for, uh, for Sloan. And, you know, luckily got there and pursued, uh, my dream, uh, course.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you for, for sharing this. Uh, I, I, I, I wanna go, let’s start by the end. So, you said your dream course, you talked about administration, uh, and, uh, how, how to lead, you know, organization.

So you, you moved from academia, from clinical surgery, uh, where you were having immediate impact on, uh, majority kids. Um, to now leading a nonprofit organizations more on the admin side, uh, as you described it. Uh, what have you learned through this transition and do you have any advice you can share with those who are thinking about such

Gaurav Deshpande: transitions today?

Yeah, that’s a great question, Naji, and I think it’s very common these days for clinicians to, you know, um, Pursue their dream. Uh, and that may not be surgery. Uh, and you pointed it out correctly, right? When you are operating on a kid, you are impacting that kid and their family. Um, it’s a 45 minute operation.

It’s a, I’m talking about left surgery. It’s a very simple operation, but has such a big impact, right? Uh, I always thought that, you know, Whether it’s a good idea to, to leave this because you see that happiness in the mom’s eyes when you give that, you know, new smile to the child. Um, but then I realize is that okay, this is, surgery is great, it impacts one child at a time.

But what if I pursue this dream of administration and workforce, let’s say Operation Smile. At that time it was not, uh, fixed. But even healthcare companies, even bio, uh, biotech, you know, pharma, uh, any healthcare company would gimme an opportunity to impact larger audience in that amount of time. So I think it was that thought that, you know, the, the, the impact that I would create, Over a larger population in short amount of time.

Uh, that was very pleasing for me. Uh, and, and you know, that gave me inspiration to, to change this field. Uh, and I think the same advice goes to whoever is at this point thinking about it. You know, um, we all are passionate as physicians, um, but we all. Sometimes, uh, are stuck in that idea is that direct patient care is the only way we can impact as physicians.

Um, but I think there are so many other alternatives to that. And you’ve, you’ve been doing that Naji yourself, uh, and we have so many other examples where people have actually impacted a larger population with, you know, uh, in a shorter period of time when they pursue both. And for me actually, um, operation Smile is uh, kind of a dream job as well because I can operate on the medical programs, so I can go as a volunteer and, you know, continue that surgical skills and practice administration.

So, you know, I get to have, enjoy the, uh, uh, both parts of the world. That’s,

Naji Gehchan: that’s great. I’m talking about large impact. It’s just incredible what you’ve been able to do through this journey, and it feels like a full circle now, being in this organization and doing it at that big scale globally.

Gaurav Deshpande: Yes.

Naji Gehchan: I’d love to hear, uh, as you are going through it, and really you’re in the nonprofit with Operation Smiles.

How, how do you see NGO’s role. In the healthcare ecosystem several times, you know, and as you said, so I relate to your, to, to your journey. And also I’m in the biotech biopharma industry. We hear about several partners, but it’s true, nonprofit won’t. It is not one of the first that would come into place, even though it has such a big impact.

And usually unfortunately, with underrepresented or smaller populations or those places, Where healthcare is a need or is a lack. So I’d love to get your thoughts as you’re now a leader in those organizations. How do you see your role as NGOs in the

Gaurav Deshpande: ecosystem? So I feel, uh, naji that nonprofits are like the catalyst to the process.

Uh, they can never be, uh, the sole ingredients. I mean, they could be the sole ingredients of the, um, of the process, but, but to, to make things more efficient, to make things, uh, you know, work favorably. It’s always good to partner, uh, with. Other organizations and that could, that could be governmental organizations, which is very important for nonprofits, uh, given the work that they’re doing.

Uh, and when we work with governments or ministry of of health, um, you know, our work is kind of made simple by them because, you know, they know the lay of the land. Um, many times, you know, we are far into that particular place. So it helps a lot if you’re actually able to partner with the government. Um, you can also.

Uh, partner with corporates. I mean, that, that’s like, um, you know, might sound funny, but, uh, but with the CSR initiatives with companies that have similar vision, you know, like, um, uh, if, if there is, I don’t want to name any particular, uh, organization, but if there is any, any, um, big corporate partner. Who have similar vision, who want to do the same work in that particular area, then you know, we can work with them, uh, in making sure that we have, um, the right elements to the, uh, to the process.

So I think nonprofit is that catalyst. So it brings in the government together, the corporates together, it has its own team, uh, you know, has been doing this for, um, that particular, um, specific job for many, many years. That helps to build the contacts as well. So, um, you know, working together is always the, the best way going forward, uh, especially in the low and low middle income countries because, uh, again, you know, we can impact the lives of many more, um, people by doing so.

Um, talking about Operation smiled specifically. Uh, we’ve always historically been, um, a surgical mission, humanitarian and mission driven organization. Uh, so what we did was we used to form a team and then send them into the, into this countries to, you know, to take, and we had local foundation who would, you know, find these patients who needed the care.

We would go there, operate, give them comprehensive care, and then. You know, the team flies out with a few people staying in the country to take care of the after surgery, um, care. Right? But now we are moving forward towards strengthening the local healthcare system. So our focus now is on education and training.

So whenever we are taking care of children, we are making sure that we are actually harnessing the local. Healthcare, uh, resources like surgery, anesthesia, pediatrics, biomedical, and we give them the necessary training so that they can now start taking care of their own children. Uh, and this is again, done in partnership with either the Ministry of Health, um, large corporations, which for-profit, who help us, you know, in donations in kind cash, uh, which help us to, uh, You know, take care of the pa the patients, take care of the surgery, give them a complete care, not just surgery, which includes dentistry, speech therapy, psychosocial care, et cetera, which is also very important.

Um, so, you know, I dunno whether I was able to answer your question, but, um, uh, long story short, I think it’s the, uh, the non-profit role as a catalyst that is very important in bringing all this partner together and forming that good uh, uh, team. You, you

Naji Gehchan: answered this question and my second one, which was around bridging the gap, uh, it’s one of your passion between patients and corporations, and you, you definitely talked about how you are doing it with your current role.

So let me pivot it to another question that is more personal, um, and talking some m MIT Sloan language, I’d love to hear more about your leadership signature. How do you define it? And how your leadership journey has been going.

Gaurav Deshpande: I think, uh, to define the leadership, uh, in one word, I would, um, say it as, uh, being an empathetic leader is so important.

Um, you know, um, many times we are so engrossed into what we want to do. We’re very focused on achieving our goals. And that point of time, we forget that, you know, there are human beings around us who are also doing the same thing for us. I remember us, uh, I was working with a senior plastic surgeon in India.

He was an American plastic surgeon and spending six months with us at this center, he would operate all day. And in the afternoon when it was lunch, there was no lunchtime. But you know, whenever you finish your surgeries, you come and you have lunch. This gentleman would go and see the patients who are waiting.

And when I was to say, Sam, you know, you should come and have your food. You, you are must be tired. You’ve been working all day. He said, but these kids are also waiting for us all day, so, you know, let me take care of them so that they can have their food and I can have it, have it later. So that kind of empathy, you know, when you see from people, you get so inspired.

And I think, um, uh, Sam Fuller is the name of the gentleman who has taught me that. Uh, and I would never forget, uh, uh, spending six months with him. We are still great friends. Um, Is to care for others, to take them together, you know, join hands. Um, there would be instances where, you know, there would be deadlines, there would be crunch times.

Uh, but I think if you have developed this relationship with your team, um, I think it goes so far, uh, uh, to, to solve the purpose rather than, you know, being, uh, very objective about, about the, uh, the work that we do. So, um, so I think, uh, it’s, it’s a mixture of that, but to, to summarize it, I think being an empathetic leader, um, is so important, uh, in today’s world.

Um, and that’s, that’s all I can say. Uh, and

Naji Gehchan: Guo, you talked about something that might seem obvious, but unfortunately we don’t see it. It’s this empathy to word your patients when you are a healthcare provider. So it, I’m saying obvious because many times you think like, yeah, healthcare providers are built that way, which is, as we both know, not always the case.

And, and then you also talked about empathy towards the people you’re working with. To provide this, this care, or in your nonprofit world to be able to lead and bring even more impact. Uh, do. Do you have any thoughts or stories, especially in Operation Smile as you are leading across cultures across really different countries, how do you think about those really?

I don’t wanna say cross-functional, but really like putting people from different places with a huge diversity to be able to bring an impact in those underserved population. How does the magic work somehow for you to be able to impact, uh, kids’ lives?

Gaurav Deshpande: It’s, it’s such a great question, Naji, because it’s so relevant to us.

Uh, so Operations Mile headquarters, uh, are, is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Um, And we work in 36 different countries. Each of them have their own foundations. Each of them have their own leaders. So, um, you know, it’s not the way that we can actually direct them to, you know, do things like this. But rather than, you know, respecting the local culture, respecting the local leadership is so important in this case.

And I think the communication is extremely important. Right. Um, Not just the communication, but the way it is communicated is so important. Um, what we do at Operation Smile Headquarters is, you know, uh, our, like a backend support for them. So we encourage the local leadership to take care of their own problems.

And whenever they have any pro any issues that are, you know, um, um, difficult to address, then we are always there with our resources to back them up. So I think the most important point here is to, to respect, uh, the, the local foundations, the local people. Many times what happens is, um, you know, we have the right experience, we have the right knowledge, but we do not know how that right knowledge and right experience can, um, you know, be, uh, of relevance in that local particular region, um, that we are working in.

So I think. Mutual respect to our colleagues from, from the local foundations to the local organization, the local, local companies is very important to get their perspective in rather than having a unilateral decision. Um, we believe in having that dialogue with them and discussing, brainstorming the difficult problems.

Easy ones are, you know, disolve it, we say, awesome, great job. Uh, when there are difficult problems to solve, we all sit together, uh, you know, get their ideas. We do. Definitely give some recommendations from our side, uh, and obviously offer help with other resources that, you know, as a headquarter organization would have.

Um, so I think it’s that combination of respect and good communication, uh, not being, uh, very, uh, direct about, you know, telling them how to do things, but rather getting the ideas from them and then mutually agreeing to what works best in that region. Um, is what is working so well for us. So I’ll give

Naji Gehchan: you now a word and I’ll want your reaction to it.

Okay. The fir, the first one is leadership,

Gaurav Deshpande: um, hard.

The second one is health equity.

Um, we are getting there.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Do, do you think, so do you feel we’re, we’re striving, do you think we’re getting there? And what is your thoughts? You’re, yeah, but I’d, I’d love you to get your thoughts. You’re obviously working on equitable issues with Claf.

Gaurav Deshpande: Yeah. So, uh, you know, when, uh, during our time at M I t, um, I was, uh, in Healthcare Club and me and three other amazing, uh, individuals we worked with Biogen.

Um, on health equity, the same topic. And that was kind of an eye opener for me. Um, you know, when we were doing our research, the background research is how far we are, but the kind of, um, Excitement that Biogen showed with what our findings were and they implemented what we recommended, which was a big deal.

You know, these are four students from some business school coming and recommending them something. It’s a multi-billion dollar comp corporation, and they actually implementing that was. Such an amazing feeling for all of us. Um, and, you know, that showed us that confidence that, you know, people are really thinking about it.

And we have so many other examples. I’m, I’m probably ignorant about other corporations, but this is my personal example. Uh, same thing is with Operation Smile. Um, you know, as I said, uh, before, uh, the, the core now is. To make sure that we reach to the patients rather than the patient reaching to us. So what we are doing now, our strategy for the next decade is going to, uh, work in a similar fashion, like a cycle tire, right?

Hub and spooks. So what we are doing is now with the local foundations, we are trying to identify hubs which are this big, um, high activity. Academic centers, um, which can, you know, be the source of education, training, service, delivery, care delivery, clinical care delivery. And then we are also trying to find the spokes, which are, you know, well connected to these hubs, but are in the periphery towards the patient.

In doing so, what we are doing is, you know, we are trying to reduce the catastrophic expenses that the patients. Might experience and also make sure that they get the timely care, right. So, uh, instead of sometimes we have seen patients traveling for 16 hours, you know, sitting on a donkey, then riding a boat and sitting on a bus in a train, and then coming to the hospital for care.

And sometimes, you know, it just doesn’t work. The the kid is not, well, he cannot undergo the surgery. He has to go back. So that made us think like if we take that care and go to the patients, they have to just travel for less than two hours. That’s our aim. So whenever they need care, they can immediately go and get in there.

So, you know, that’s the way we are trying to, um, work on getting equitable healthcare to everyone. But again, you know, as I said, there’s, the journey is long, but I’m so glad that whatever my recent experiences are, uh, not just with my current organization but with with several other organizations, is that the journey has started.

We’ll get there. Yeah,

Naji Gehchan: I, I have the same hope. Uh, and I really think as healthcare, as a healthcare leader and all of us, uh, healthcare leaders, it’s just the right thing to do. We cannot be healthcare leaders and not think and act on health equity. And the example you gave is such a powerful example on, you know, thinking about the holistic experience, not only providing care, but actually for some patients, the journey for them literally.

To get to a center and get care or even what, what are the resources they have to be able to get and uh, and have care is, is so important. Thanks for sharing this. The third word is Sloan

Gaurav Deshpande: Fellows. Uh, the best possible, uh, the course. If you want to change to administration, um, I really enjoyed the, the experience, um, just because, you know, it’s in the, in such a, a unique kind of offering, right?

It’s not mba, it’s not executive, it’s a mixture of both and that makes it so special. So, you know, you spend time with young, very, uh, energetic. Folks from the, the regular two year mba. You also spend time with the senior leaders who are currently working. And then you have yourself a cohort, um, who are accomplished managers, uh, you know, with 12, 15, 20 years of experience themselves.

So I think it’s kind of the most unique experience that I, I you could imagine, um, Plus it’s m i t, it’s the kind of, um, you know, the, uh, the resources that just come with that name. Um, I always thought I was well traveled. I always thought that, you know, I’ve done fellowships at, uh, international universities, uh, I’ve done clinical rotations there, and I thought, oh yeah, well, I’ve seen the world.

When I came here, I realized I was living in a big pond, you know, uh, and. That was just an eye-opener for me. The kind of things I took away. The, the kind of people I met, the friends I I I made, uh, is just amazing. Um, and, uh, you know, there’s so much, um, positive energy that I took from there. So much positive learnings that I took from there, which are gonna be lifelong for me.

Yeah. So, uh, in one word it was amazing and, um, you know, a life-changing experience for sure. I, I was so

Naji Gehchan: afraid when you said the young mba, how you’re gonna describe, uh, the exec mba. So I don’t know how to take senior. It’s not all that please, but, uh, yeah. Okay. I, I take that the, the last word is spread love in organizations.

Gaurav Deshpande: Um, very needed. Um, and, um, let’s, you know, let’s do it together. Uh, that’s, uh, that’s a wonderful feeling, you know, when you, uh, give a compliment to your coworker, uh, when you just, you know, give them that encouragement when they are really down, um, when you, you know, in simple ways, very, very simple ways.

Show your appreciation. And the kind of, you know, impact that it makes on them is so huge. Um, you know, we’ve all, all heard and we have all, uh, in various fields have experienced toxic culture. We have also been lucky where we have found that one or two, or three or four, uh, coworkers who have been completely opposite, very positive, very optimistic, you know, full of love.

And we all agree that our. Uh, output. Our efficiency is the, is very high when we are actually working with these, uh, individuals who are positive. You know who, who mean love, who, um, you know, I keep using this word too often. Empathetic. Uh, it’s so important in my life and I’ve, uh, seen how it benefits. Um, so I mean, I am, whoever is listening, I can just request them.

You know, it’s a very simple, um, Uh, thing to do is just to, you know, be kind, be, um, uh, empathetic towards your, um, your colleagues. Make sure that, you know, you see their side of it. Sometimes, you know, we are, as I said, we are very focused on our outcomes and we do not see that, okay, this person is also human being.

May he also has a family, may have some issues, but when we start thinking holistically about all those things, I think, um, you know, just not. Um, better humans, but also better managers. So I, I sincerely hope that, you know, in the next decade or so we’ll be in a different place.


Naji Gehchan: final word of wisdom, uh, gu for healthcare leaders

Gaurav Deshpande: around the world? Uh, well, I mean, I, um, I have been very, um, honored to, to have, um, see and experienced, uh, different styles of healthcare leaders. Um, and the only thing I would, um, you know, um, suggest, I mean, I, I’m not sure whether I even have, uh, that position to, to recommend, but, uh, what I could just suggest from my end, the small experience that I have is, um, You know, there is so much need in the world.

There are millions of people who, who lack access to, uh, safe care, safe clinical care, uh, safe medicines, you know, safe diagnostics, and, you know, we are losing precious lives because of that difference. In the distribution. Uh, so my humble request to all the healthcare readers in whichever field, you know, they are, is if we can work together and think about this inequity in the distribution and make sure that, you know, we work towards that, uh, we make sure that, you know, we have the resources that we can, we can distribute it around the world where it’s most needed.

Um, I think that would. Be very helpful, you know, to humanity and, um, uh, in general, uh, it’ll be very, very impactful. So that’s, that’s the humble request to everyone. That is such

Naji Gehchan: an important, uh, issue and topic that needs to be addressed. Thank you so much, uh, again, for being with me today and for this incredible chat.

Gaurav Deshpande: Thank you so much, Naji. Um, you know, uh, you and. An inspiration for me. I’ve learned a lot from you, uh, with our short chats during Sloan as well. So thank you for this lovely endeavor that you’re doing. I, I follow it very keenly. Um, you know, and so many fabulous, uh, leaders that you’ve, uh, you know, spoken to in the past.

And I’m, I feel lucky and honored, uh, that you thought of me. Thank you so much.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much. Your words mean a lot. We’re, we’re so many leaders more than a hundred now, who are definitely striving to make life better around the world by leading from a place of love, and you’re one of them. It’s been an honor to have you, Gaurav Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.